is the billboard baron trying to return to lower merion for a do-over?

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I am stepping out of Chester County to write about something I still hate: BILLBOARDS.

I grew to truly hate billboards while living in Lower Merion Township. (You can read all the old Main Line Media News articles by hitting up their search archives.)

I received a phone call in 2008 I think it was: “How do you feel about billboards because there is an imminent threat to Bryn Mawr?” When I heard the location, I was astounded. When I heard the proposed size of the billboards, I was also dumbfounded because I was told there were to be two proposed, with sizes of approximately 672 square feet each. That’s I-95 huge on  the equivalent Main Street.

Back then one day I was sitting in a neighbor’s garden and  I thought about those billboards. You see, gardens no matter how small are one of life’s great gifts. But what if billboards became the view? Because for a few small neighborhoods on the Main Line I felt that would be just awful.

We fought those billboards for years between Lower Merion and Haverford Townships.  The billboard cases are STILL pending for Haverford Township I was told a few months ago, but I thought the issue was dead for Lower Merion Township until this afternoon when someone sent me this:

billboard groundhog day 2billboard groundhog day in lmt

It doesn’t take a bloodhound led by Sherlock Holmes to figure out sadly who appears to be back:

catalyst 3catalyst 4catalyst 5catalyst 6

Oy vey, it must be billboard groundhog day right?

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When you’re talking about beautifying our communities, how are the billboards beautiful except to the guy fattening his wallet with them?

When these billboard issues are challenged it always seems as if the billboard companies think their First Amendment rights are being denied which I never get. Did our Founding Fathers help create the First Amendment so billboard-company owners could erect billboards in our communities? I believe this is an issue of public health, safety and welfare, yet here we are stuck on “need” versus “want” parading around in a constitutional-rights costume?

And can we all admit light pollution is real and digital billboards have the potential to be EXTRA distracting to drivers?

This same company has billboard nonsense still pending in Tredyffrin for Paoli where they wish to plunk their GIANT digital billboard down at 252 and Route 30 where the Okie Clockworks building is at present. My friend Pattye wrote this summer on her blog about it:

A “Community Not Divided” – The Fate of the Digital Billboard Rests With Zoning Hearing Board – Final Decision October 24
July 26, 2019

Thank you to the many residents who filled the seats of the township building or stood in the back of Keene Hall last night for the Zoning Hearing Board meeting. Thank you to the many residents who last night (and at the two previous Zoning Hearing Board meetings) eloquently delivered their message of “Just Say No” to a digital billboard at the intersection of Rt. 252 and Lancaster Avenue in Paoli.

As the last resident to speak in opposition to the digital billboard last night my words were simple, “we are not a community divided”! For eleven months, since Catalyst Outdoor Advertising first came to the township with their proposal to demolish the Clockworks building and install two large digital billboards and a reflecting pool, the community has stood in complete solidarity in its opposition. We do not want the digital billboard. Period….

So where do we go from here?  After much discussion between the Zoning Hearing Board members, its solicitor and attorneys from the township and Catalyst Outdoor Advertising, a timeline for legal responses from both sides was established. Much of this discussion was difficult to follow but at the end, I asked two questions for clarification; (1) when would the residents who sought ‘party status’ know if it was granted and (2) when would the Zoning Hearing Board make their final determination.

There will be a special meeting of the Zoning Hearing Board on Thursday, October 24 (presumably at 7 PM but not announced). At that meeting, the public will learn which residents receive party status and we will know the decision of the Zoning Hearing Board.

As I said last night to the members of the Zoning Hearing Board, the final decision rests with them– the township heard the public and denied the application for the digital billboard and it’s now up to them to uphold and support.  The public has spoken … this is not a community divided!

Even State Senator Andy Dinniman dislikes the idea of billboards in our communities:

But we are talking about Lower Merion again here.  I am somewhat gobsmacked that they are trying again given the last time they challenged Lower Merion Township on billboards. See article from December 2012:

State Court rejects Bryn Mawr billboard appeal
By Cheryl Allison
callison@mainlinemedianews.com

That space on a wall facing Bryn Mawr’s Five Points intersection will remain blank, following a state court’s rejection of a billboard company’s appeal of a violation order in Lower Merion Township.

On Wednesday, a three-judge Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court panel upheld an Oct. 14, 2010, decision by the township’s zoning hearing board that an 8 ½-by-34-foot vinyl-wrapped sign on a building at 762-766 Old Railroad Avenue was illegal.

AdSmart Outdoor Advertising Inc. had appealed the zoning board’s decision to the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, which in February affirmed the township order. The company immediately took the matter to the higher court, but in March removed the billboard while the appeal was pending…..

The court found that AdSmart had not demonstrated good faith “in failing to seek any type of zoning approval” before erecting the sign, and rejected its request for the award of costs and fees.

Citing case law, Simpson wrote, “A person who completely disregards the requirement of securing a building permit cannot acquire any vested right in the structure.”

Mind you after Superior Court, this went to the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court and even THEY said no:

PA Supreme Court: Five Points Billboard Will Stay Down
The court rejected (another) appeal last week.
By Tom Sunnergren, Patch Staff
Jun 4, 2013 10:51 pm ET | Updated Jun 5, 2013 8:10 pm ET

The Five Points Intersection billboard will stay down.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied Adsmart Outdoor Advertising‘s petition for an allowance of appeal, putting what looks to be an end to the longstanding controversy over the billboard that was removed last spring.

“It’s the final nail in the coffin for the Bryn Mawr billboard,” Lower Merion’s Ward 10 Commissioner Scott Zelov told his constituents in an email. “This is another victory against unwanted billboards that don’t belong in our suburban community.”

 

So OMG it IS  LITERALLY groundhog day at least in Bryn Mawr and the other location? WHY?????

Appeal No. 4473
Applicant: 766 W. Railroad Outdoor, LLC
Property: 762, 764, & 766 West Railroad Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
known as tax map parcel nos. 40-00-48496-00-1; 40-00-48500-00-6; and
40-00-48504-00-2
a.k.a. 762, 764, & 766 Old Railroad Avenue West, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
(Election District #10) C 2 Commercial District

The Applicant proposes to install a billboard sign on the exposed party wall between 762 and 764 West Railroad Avenue and is challenging the substantive validity of the Zoning Ordinance, in accordance with the PA Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) sections 909.1(a)(1) & 916.1(a)(1).
The Applicant contends that the Lower Merion Township Zoning Ordinance improperly restricts the development and use of land in the Township for billboards (i.e. off-site premises signage); specifically that 1) §155-93.3 E of the Zoning Ordinance limits the placement of billboards to properties only within the Manufacturing and Industrial zoning district, along with the dimensional requirements for billboards are a) unreasonable, arbitrary, unduly restrictive, exclusionary, and
not a valid exercise of the Township’s police powers, and b) unreasonably infringe upon an affected landowner’s constitutionally protected right to freely use and enjoy the landowner’s property for a billboard, 2) the provisions of §155-93.3 E, when taken together, make it such that there is no area within the Township where a billboard sign would be permitted, 3) §155-93.3 E is illusory in that it gives the impression that billboards are permitted but takes that ability away
with the imposition of the restrictions found in its provisions, and 4) §155-93.3 E is contrary to the MPC and PA case law as to billboard signage. The Applicant also challenges the ability of the Township to require the Applicant to fund an escrow account that reimburses the Township consultants and its legal counsel to provide services in opposition to this challenge application.

The Applicant requests that the Zoning Hearing Board find that §155-93.3 E of the Zoning Ordinance is invalid.  Anyone interested in reviewing the application and plans may review this information in the Building Regulations Division at the Township Building, between 8:15 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday
through Friday. Anyone requiring special accommodations for the Meeting or the Hearing should contact this office at least three days prior to the hearing (610-645-6172 or  mwylie@lowermerion.org).

It’s that location again years later? WHY????

And who owns the building now? (I never knew back then.)   Once again, everything old is new again…sigh. I no longer live in Lower Merion, but this is craziness in my humble opinion and I had to point it out. I will also note that not only is there the billboard issue in Tredyffrin I pointed out earlier in this post, there is whatever happened to the billboard issue in West Whiteland  for Route 100 that would be next to where there was that fire recently and where does THAT stand?

Billboards are still blight upon our communities.  We have enough screen time every day as it is that we don’t need them supersized and along our roads and in our communities, do we? Yet….

Buckle up Lower Merion and get out the popcorn.

4473 – application – Validty challenge Billboard W Railroad Ave Bryn Mawr

4473 – 766 W. Railroad Outdoor, LLC 762-764-766 West Railroad Ave Bryn Mawr memo 9-19-2019

ZHB notice 9-19-2019

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don’t we have enough billboards in chester county already?

I am not a billboard fan.  Never have been. I am not a West Whiteland resident, but I am a Chester County resident.  There is a video which residents in West Whiteland who got the letter were also invited to watch.

Here is the link: https://vimeo.com/212812871/8e07f2f03b

Here is property listing on LoopNet and it shows that it is off the market.

My opinion is Route 100 is such a zoo already, and this would bring the potential for additional light pollution, wouldn’t it?  And would it be a hazardous distraction on accident prone Route 100?  The video shows their farm market concept, which  by itself without the billboard I have no problem with, except to wonder about the traffic there and is there truly enough space?

The property is next to that place that looks like it is a motel, but I guess are apartments?  And what about the creek that runs right there?  And if you take out all of those trees, how will that potentially affect the residents back up behind there even if there was no billboard?

Yes, it’s an ugly site, but is this the best solution? And is the entire parcel all in West Whiteland or is part in Uwchlan maybe?

I hear neighbors are up in arms already at the proposal, and can you blame them?

I only ask reasonable questions as an observer and resident of Chester County. It will be interesting to see how his proceeds, won’t it?

ww outdoor

it still looks like a giant distracting T.V. floating above route 202

On 202 in Westtown there is a giant T.V. screen, oh I am sorry, billboard. Or is it digital advertising?  Or is it “ground-mounted electronic-display system”?   Incredibly ugly, incredibly distracting I think. I have written about this billboard a couple of times now.

I still don’t understand why it was that Westtown officials sold out over this billboard, but on our way to Dilworthtown’s Blue Pear for dinner last night as a passenger in a car on 202 I was once again struck how distracting this signage was.

It floats over 202 like a GIANT disembodied television screen.  And like a T.V. it seems to change channels.  And last night there was a giant ad called “a kidney for Aretha.”

Really?

So I googled and found an Inquirer article about this.  I mean no disrespect to this Aretha, but I did my time at billboard hearings in more than one municipality and while I want to believe this is being done for the greater good, the jaded community activist in me wonders if he is trying to repair a tarnished community image in multiple municipalities?  How many of us were picked on in a questionable manner by his legal team at meetings?  Did Bartkowski seem to care about the resident after resident from all walks of life at multiple meetings in multiple municipalities who begged for their communities?

I really,really hope this lady gets her kidney, however, I really wish officials would start keeping tabs on that billboard, especially at night.  It’s awful. And distracting.  And why is that good for any community?  I wish I could believe the King of All Billboards was merely being a good son, and altruistic, don’t you? But I was at those meetings, and so were a lot of people I know, and the dueling images just don’t quite fit.

The billboard up and back in the dark was so bright. Thank goodness it wasn’t hovering over the Blue Pear like a neon full moon.  That would have totally ruined a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Aretha Swift advertises for a kidney

June 07, 2012|Ronnie Polaneczky Daily News

HOW MANY billboard owners does it take to snag a kidney?

Ten — if one of them is an obedient son. Luckily for Aretha Swift, Thaddeus Bartkowski is a very obedient son.

A few months ago, Bartkowski’s mom was listening to KYW radio while driving and heard a story about Swift. Swift’s kidneys had failed, but no one among her family and friends was a suitable match to donate a kidney to her. So she was placed on a waiting list to receive one from a cadaver or living donor. The average wait is five years.

The KYW story was about a fundraiser that Aretha held to buy space on a billboard to advertise her need…..”My mom called and said, ‘You should contact this woman,’” says Bartkowski, 32, co-founder of Catalyst Outdoor Advertising, in Devon. “She never calls while she’s driving unless she thinks something is really important. I thought I should listen to her.”

And that’s why, as of Friday, Swift’s cause now graces 24 digital billboards in places like King of Prussia, Reading, the Jersey shore and even — ta dah — Times Square.

They show a lovely photo of Swift alongside the words, “You have two, I only need one to live.” Viewers are then directed to a website, http://www.AKidneyForAretha.com, to learn more…..”Thaddeus didn’t know me from Adam and he’s done all this,” says Swift, 52, who is separated, lives in Roslyn and has three children. “And he’s only 32! He’s so impressive!”

 

 

 

fight potential billboard blight in chester county

A blog post on the Phoenixville Patch over the past few days (they used a photo from Save Ardmore Coalition) reminds me that yes, the billboard issues that have been plaguing the Main Line, Delaware, and Montgomery County is trying to encroach on Chester County too.

And trust me, since I have been at many, many Main Line/Haverford Township billboard hearings, I can tell you it may get nasty.

The guy is Thaddeus Bartkowski.  He’s young and affectionately known to billboard activists as Mr. B.I.G. (BIG is the acronym for one of his corporate entities so it’s a play on words, not truly a reference to Sex In The City.)

Anyway, this guy thinks it is his First Amendment right to litter communities with billboards.

I have noticed Chester County has it’s fair share of billboards and do you want more?  I know people in Phoenixville are very upset at this prospect in the town.  But then again what does a Classic Town designation and a billboard have in common? The answer is not much.

Here is the recent Phoenixville Patch Blog Post:

Local Voices

Blog: Billboard Bully Strikes Again  Posted on January 19, 2012 at 10:51 pm

East Pikeland joins at least 18 other local communities targeted by Thaddeus J. Bartkowski, CEO of Chester County Outdoor, and his legal counsel, the law firm of Kaplin Stewart, in their game of corporate bullying. 

 

Those communities have said, emphatically, that they don’t want digital billboards. As a result, they’ve been subjected to appeals, litigation and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars spent in legal fees. 

 

Bartkowski and Kaplin’s first appeal tactic is to object to the exclusionary nature of local sign ordinances….Communities, not the billboard industry, should have the right to determine appropriate limits for billboard size, and according to a chart of standard billboard sizes, Phoenixville’s and East Pikeland’s ordinances approved sizes for free-standing signs would accommodate at least half of the industry-approved sizes of billboards.

 

Even in the case of an exclusionary ordinance, though, as Mr. Bartkowski and his legal counsel are aware, communities have the right to ban digital billboards outright if they can show that they are a detriment to local aesthetics or citizen safety.

 

A recent study by Philadelphia urban planner Jonathan Snyder demonstrates that billboards have a detrimental impact on local property value: In Philadelphia, properties purchased within 500 feet of billboards have a decrease in sale price of $30,826. For each additional billboard in a census tract, there is an average $947 drop in home value, throughout the entire census tract.

 

On the safety issue: The website of a prominent billboard company boasts that its signs are “virtually impossible to avoid.”  Another company’s website promises that “outdoor boards are unavoidable, unstoppable.”

 

Marketing blogger Andrea Atkins, in a blog post promoting Mr. Bartkowski’s Outdoor Advertising wrote: “Qhat is the No. 1 best feature of outdoor advertising?  That customers are basically prisoners; outdoor advertising is difficult to get away from … Is Victoria Secret bringing us new bras? I was staring into space during the commercial, but its hard to miss a gorgeous, half-naked model on a 50-foot digital billboard during rush hour!”

This issue of fighting billboards has been going on in Bryn Mawr  and Haverford Township for a few years now. I mean can you imagine giant, I-95 sized billboards in Bryn Mawr?  Or in Phoenixville? Why in town centers? Why not leave them on highways or better yet, not have them at all?  Why do communities need billboards and why can’t they say no?

One of the proposed Bryn Mawr Locations is across the street from a church.  Can you imagine a GIANT condom ad or say a Victoria’s Secret ad across from a church? Because I don’t believe you can dictate billboard content – whatever ad space that is sold on a billboard is ad space, correct?

At many of the hearings we were scoffed at when we said “what if one fell?” Apparently, that query is not so odd after all given recent events out of New York:

In spite of personally being singled out by the billboard guy’s attorney – apparently my First Amendment rights are  very optional – he can claim it’s his right to put them in communities, but I am not supposed to be able to say I hate the idea of billboards in communities I care about and why – I still say if you don’t want billboards in your communities you should have a say in the matter.  As a matter of fact, four states have banned billboards for years: Vermont, Hawaii, Alaska, and Maine.  In England and the UK billboards are controlled via planning and the fines for not following the rules are stiff.  And in Toronto, Canada since around 2010 they have been taxed and part of the tax collected goes towards public art and stuff like that.

Yet here, for this guy Mr. B.I.G., all communities are just supposed to roll over?  What I still don’t get is why one person seems to be on a mission to billboard SPAM  Southeastern PA? 

Haverford Township Fire Truck Extends Ladder to Show Residents How High Billboards Would Be (May 2009)

So yeah, a lot of us are real familiar with Mr. B.I.G.  and his Billboardquest.

YUCK.

Groups that are fighting billboards in this area are SCRUB and No Billboards – both groups are full of awesome people.

These blue tarps were stretched out at a Haverford Twp. Billboard Hearing So All Could See How Big The Billboards Would Be (May 2009)

On Christmas Day, the Phoenixville billboard issue made the Inquirer and was even picked up by the AP:

Posted: Sun, Dec. 25, 2011, 3:01 AM
 

Borough preps for billboard battle

Phoenixville will likely wind up in court in its fight to keep three 40-foot-wide electronic signs out of town.

By Anthony Campisi Inquirer Staff Writer

Since 2008, Thaddeus J. Bartkowski III’s billboard wars have flared in more than a dozen communities in Delaware and Montgomery counties.

Now he is moving on Phoenixville, with the first shot fired toward the Chester County borough’s historic downtown.

If Bartkowski prevails, three electronic, V-shaped billboards, 12 feet high and 40 feet wide, will go up along Nutt Road, a major thoroughfare. They will rise 43 feet above a borough that has struggled to reinvent itself, filling the void of industrial decline with quaint shops, good restaurants, and gussied-up rowhouses.

Not surprisingly, residents are in high dudgeon. The billboards, they say, would be a visual blight and a dangerous distraction for drivers.

The town is gearing up for what promises to be a long and costly fight likely to land in Chester County Court.

For the billboard purveyor with a novel strategy for placing outdoor ads, courtrooms are familiar battlegrounds.

And more on Chester Co billboard issues:

The zoning hearing board has until Feb. 27 to rule on the substantive validity challenge brought by Chester County Outdoor, LLC.

    

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two articles on Wednesday’s hearing. This one will deal with the legal aspects of the case, while the follow-up goes into the statements made by the public following the testimony.

After people came forward to offer emotional appeals to stop the process that may allow 40-foot wide, 43-foot tall electronic billboards along the Nutt Road corridor, the zoning hearing for Chester County Outdoor came to a close Wednesday evening.

 

Speakers Voice Emotional Appeals Against Potential Billboards in Phoenixville

A public comment period was held following a zoning hearing Wednesday evening.

Carol Kuniholm paced within the area of a few square blocks on the floor, her voice cracking at times as she spoke.

Though not from Phoenixville, Kuniholm has tracked the work of billboard advertising firm Chester County Outdoor and she’s part of Occupy Phoenixville. She called the opposition to three 43-foot tall electronic billboards proposed for the Nutt Road corridor a perfect example of what the Occupy movement is about, calling the bids to put billboards around southeastern Pennsylvania “corporate harassment.”

 

“You ought to be embarrassed,” Kuniholm told Patrick Wolfington, the lone employee of Chester County Outdoor on hand at Wednesday’s hearing.

 

Phoenixville Area Municipalities Brace for Billboard Challenges

Schuylkill Township will invalidate its ordinance and a validity challenge will come before East Pikeland Township on Feb. 8.

As Phoenixville Borough faces its own billboard challenge, East Pikeland Township will face one soon and Schuylkill Township is trying to protect itself from similar action.

Chester County Outdoor posed a substantive validity challenge in front of the Phoenixville Zoning Hearing Board.

 

The challenge states that the borough’s sign ordinance does not allow for freestanding offsite billboards. Several residents and business representatives spoke at a recent hearing, and a decision from the zoning board is expected by Feb. 27.

 

Anyway, if you live in Chester County and where you live doesn’t have zoning to address billboards, or has zoning with holes like the holes in swiss cheese on the books, you had better sit up and pay some mind to this issue.

Trust me, these people are like ants at the proverbial picnic.   Or mold. Take your pick.